TORONTO – The Toronto Marlies kicked off their 2010-2011 season with a 4-2 loss against their division rivals, the Rochester Americans, at Ricoh Coliseum.
In the first of eight meetings this season, Rochester, 5-1-2 against Toronto last year, picked up from where they left off in the previous campaign, as they continued to dominate the Marlies.
The Amerks picked apart the Marlies’ defence on numerous occasions to build up an insurmountable 4-0 lead. Toronto scored two quick goals in a late comeback attempt, however, it was simply too little, too late.
“You play 80 games for a reason,” said forward Alex Foster, who scored Toronto’s first goal of the game. “That wasn’t a very great start for us but we’re moving on from there. It’s just one game, tomorrow is a new day and then we have Monday and we’re right back again, so we’re going to have a much better game.”
The season opener also marked Nazem Kadri’s professional debut and despite picking up an assist, it wasn’t the best of performances to say the least. Coach Dallas Eakins benched Kadri in the second period after he created a couple of turnovers while trying to carry the puck across the opposing blue line.
“Well you can turn over pucks like that in junior and I’m sure they’ll put you back on the ice but you get two chances with me and you’re going to sit down,” said Eakins.
“That’s your challenge as a professional forward. Coaches want you to enter the zone under control, with speed and with the puck but you got to sense danger and know when you’re going to make a hope play and that’s when the puck has to go deep. He decided that he wanted to keep turning it over and I decided that I wasn’t going to watch anymore.”
For Kadri the message was loud and clear and he vowed to never make the same mistake again.
“I think I just got sat down a little bit,” said Kadri. “I think I had a couple of turnovers there that really should not have happened so it’s all accountability and I got to own up to it. It’s not going to happen again, I can tell you that much.”
The Marlies are a very different team from the previous season as many new faces were brought in by Leafs’ General Manager Brian Burke. There is no shortage of talent on this year’s squad but it was apparent on Saturday afternoon that it will take the team some time to build chemistry and generate more scoring chances.
“Everyone is still trying to feel things out, chemistry is a bit of an issue right now,” added Kadri. “That’s the thing you deal with in the beginning part of the season, it’s just something you got to work through and the early chemistry is going to be there, we just got to find it.”
Pulling the Goalie
Rochester opened the scoring when forward Bill Thomas banged in a rebound past Marlies goalie James Reimer at 7:13 of the opening frame.
Towards the end of the first period, Kadri was a victim of a dangerous knee-on-knee hit by Eric Selleck. Even though Kadri was ok, Marlies’ defenceman Keith Aulie took exception and stood up for his teammate by dropping the gloves and drawing Selleck into a fight.
“You don’t like to see that,” said Aulie. “Especially with one of our young guys coming up and feeling out the league. You want to make sure you protect him, we’d expect that of anybody in this room and that’s what a team does for each other.”
The Amerks took over the game in the second period outshooting the Marlies 15-4 and scoring two goals to take a commanding 3-0 lead into the third period. Both goals came from players who have spent time playing in the NHL.
Early in the second, Scott Reynolds from behind the net backhanded a pass out front to Nathan Paetsch who one-timed a bullet into the top corner to make it 2-0.
Just over five minutes later, Michael Nylander increased the lead on a great individual effort. Nylander darted in off the right wing to create a 2-on-1 and with Reimer already down in the crease area, he faked a pass and fired a quick backhand into the top corner of the net. Nylander, who has played 920 games in the NHL, is still being paid by the Washington Capitals but is playing in the AHL so his large salary isn’t counted towards their salary cap.
In the third period, Rochester defenceman Clay Wilson one-timed a carom off the boards that managed to find its way through traffic and past Reimer to make it 4-0.
The Marlies responded only 20 seconds later while on the penalty kill when Alex Foster one-timed a pass from the slot past Amerks’ goalie Jacob Markstrom to break the shutout.
The goal gave Toronto some life as they started to create more chances. Marcel Mueller had a great opportunity on a breakaway but missed the net with less than eight minutes left.
Taking a page from his playbook from last season, Eakins pulled Reimer with just under six minutes left – a bold move with the team down 4-1.
With the extra attacker the Marlies were able to sustain pressure deep in the Amerks’ zone. Toronto worked the puck around the outside and with lots of traffic in front of Markstrom, Simon Gysbers turned and fired blindly towards the goal. The puck hit Markstrom in the arm and went in, closing the gap to 4-2.
Reimer was put back in goal briefly before being taken out again with less than four minutes remaining. The Marlies kept the pressure on but the Amerks were able to withstand the late charge and hang on for the victory.
“I have no fear with pulling our goalie,” said Eakins. “I did it last year a number of times and if we’re down, I don’t care if it’s four or five, I’m going to try and win the game. That’s what I’m here to do. At the very least, I think it might have lit our team up a little bit and hopefully we can carry that on to the next game.”
The Marlies will now host the Abbotsford Heat on Thanksgiving Monday at 1pm at Ricoh Coliseum.